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How Slab's lust for lucre rather than his IRA activism sealed his downfall

Just before dawn on a Thursday in early March 2006, several hundred police and soldiers swarmed Thomas 'Slab' Murphy's border farm.

The massive security operation, made in a crackdown on smuggling, was the first major move against the empire of the "good republican", as Sinn Fein continue to describe him.

Eight years earlier, Murphy had lost a libel action against the Sunday Times after the paper described him as a prominent IRA figure.

But it was in late 2005, as the fraud squad net closed in on the farm, that the bachelor had been forced to go public.

In a statement through a Belfast law firm, he denied links to a multimillion-pound property empire in the UK.

And he claimed to have sold his borderland home to pay for his expensive and failed defamation lawsuit.

The swoop on the Ballybinaby townland was spearheaded by organised crime investigators in Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) in a drive to disrupt cross-border smuggling. Murphy's sprawling cattle farm, with his front door just feet from the border, was hit along with 15 other properties in Louth and South Armagh.

Hours into the operation, security chiefs confirmed that £200,000 in mixed currencies had been found on the land, in the house and in sheds, along with 30,000 cigarettes and 8,000 litres of fuel.

Later it emerged that black bags hidden among hay bales in a cow shed contained cash of €256,235 and £111,185 and uncashed cheques worth €579,270, £80,000 and 24,000 in old Irish Punts.

In the yards, three tankers and a truck with a fourth tanker concealed inside it were impounded along with an oil laundering unit. The CAB investigation continued in tandem with a major probe by what was then the UK's Assets Recovery Agency.

Ultimately, some inquiries resulted in Murphy and his brothers Frank and Patrick and the Ace Oils fuel company having more than €625,000 (£487,000) in cash and cheques confiscated by Revenue chiefs in Ireland.

The blitz on Ballybinaby came six months after IRA decommissioning had been announced.

It remains to be seen how damaging the conviction of a "good republican" for tax fraud will be to Sinn Fein if, as predicted, it becomes the third biggest party in the Dail.

Belfast Telegraph